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Diet, Dearth and Future

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

For those in search of “purity”, the contents of one’s diet are often prime for scrutiny. Beyond components of our careful, cooked creations come powerful revelations on our character. In diet is our character.

For many, a diet is a text wherein one’s feeding is a gateway to the soul. Who is a person? Consider what he eats.

Religion and medical terminology permeate our food labels with terms like “prescribe” and “heal” suggesting deeper, hidden powers. Does  consumption of a brownie mean a crime against the heavens? Our labels might suggest we have as words like “sinful”, “treat”  and “guilty” fill the labels on our food. “Indulge” we read because our item is “guilt free”.

The items that we feed ourselves are symbols for our soul and history is rife with heightened dietary focus. In The Nazi War on Cancer, Robert Proctor writes on Nazi dietary guidelines. Included in his text are dietary notes from Hitler’s second-in-command Heinrich Himmler.  Reading of Himmler’s fear of “artificial food”, we read statements that seem snipped from contemporary diet concerns. Terms like “natural” and “cleanliness” permeate the text. Himmler writes of a concern for a “natural” diet free from “bad foods” like “refined flour, sugar, and white bread.” Just like so many in contemporary society the backwards move to a “natural” diet of the past was essential to existence.

Himmler writes of “food companies” who “prescribe” the German diet and mask an unassuming public. He bemoans the consumption of “refined flour, sugar, and white bread” as invisible hazards to the public. Casting these statements in connections between eater and food, Himmler demonstrates the profound connection that can be drawn from food to personal character. For Himmler and many contemporary diet experts, one’s character was revealed inside the pantry. Himmler sees a danger in our sugar bowl and lurking death in flower. For the German eater a careful consideration of food was essential for national success. Indeed he writes of patriotic duties to eat well. Procter comments that this “private life made public” was powerfully enacted in dietary policy. The public was urged to give up meat, drink alcohol and coffee in moderation and eat only until satiated for the better of their country. From the holy to the hazardous, food has long been the means to improved society. In items that we eat and the diet we subscribe our character is symbolized. In ingredients are character and in meals our greatest mirror.

Cashing Out

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A fascinating discussion on transactions takes place in this EconTalk podcast from 2007. In it Viviana Zelizer discusses the confounded relationship we have with ‘intimacy’ and ‘money’. She observes that society sees these as distinct cultural norms and strives to keep them separate.

How does money taint experience? Are there moments when a cash equivalent is simply rude?  Attend a dinner party and choose to give your host a $20 bill “I know you wanted wine, but this is so much better.” Say a neighbor learns of another community member being ill. Coming to her door, she offers chicken soup and says, “I hope this kills the sickness.” Does the neighbor offer cash?” When does rudeness make its entrance? 

Money makes things murky. We pay for food from the grocery but never at family holidays. Is the fastest way to ruin Thanksgiving the act of leaving $10 on the table. “This isn’t a restaurant”, this hose might say. And yet both restaurant and family meals involve the consumption of food. In both situations another space is used. Wherein lies the difference?

Relationships are key. In family dinners the introduction of money symbolizes a misunderstanding of the transaction. Money is not working here: the family meal is one in which emotion is transacted. “I care for you so this is free.” Our grocer does not “care for us” in this sense: their business is dependent on our money to continue in its function.

What role does money play in human life? With currency we exchange one thing for another. The bottle of water is a dollar. Exchange your dollar for the water and the transaction takes place. Economies function on these most basic actions. And yet, despite this seemingly simplistic action we manage to complicate the issue. Perhaps it is because these transactions are so cold and simple that introducing them into intimate relationships spell trouble. The payment of cash is one without emotion. I want it so I give it. What function does money play? Often its a symbol of indifference that, divorced of our emotion, works to get to what we want without the murky work of feelings.

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

Coy Categories

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Our relationship to objects hinges on categorizations. Food is for eating, ice cream is food and therefore ice cream is for eating. A simple syllogism that automatically occurs, but what happens when the clarity of these categories becomes distorted? What about ice cream for dogs? Toys for boys or tea for weight loss? Suddenly these objects are different; though not by form or perhaps content, but instead by the suggestion by which we should interact with the product.

Is ice cream for dogs not for humans? Can a non-dieter still drink tea for dieting? Of course they can, but in consuming these products we take on the categorization. Eat the ice cream for dogs and we are a person eating ice cream for dogs? If someone were to observe us doing this we might be embarrassed. We are doing something wrong in consuming this product for another. We violate the category and bring about the reaction of one who violates. Rules are being broken when we consume products categorized as something beyond who we are.

While many categories are clearly established, ie by branding like “Frosty Paws”, the ice cream for dogs, other items are less distinctly categorized. Fashion is categorized far less loudly and many often err by donning the fashion of a different culture or group. Certain fashion items are distinctly “one cultured” (think kimono) while others breach all boundaries and have nearly global acceptance (think the hooded sweatshirt). These distinctions are less for the utility of the item and more for the associations that come from them. A culture possesses its fashion protects itself by controlling those allowed to wear the item. Insiders are those allowed to wear these clothes, listen to this music or even appreciate this food. Often it is the outsider whose lack of understanding or ability to properly utilize the item that perform this action of distinction. The individual unable to use chop sticks at an Asian restaurant is communicating more of his/her lack of belonging to the culture than a lack of awareness. Afterall, he/she isn’t from that culture. Is it offensive to even attempt to use these tools?

Objects are never simple items we encounter in life. Everything we encounter carries with it a load of meanings. Categorizations inform our relation to these items and when certain categorizations blend we may find ourselves confused. Imagine a freezer stocked with ice cream. Does anyone other than the dog consume the ice cream for dogs? Unlike the French Vanilla, which both human and fido enjoy, the dog ice cream will only ever reach the dog mouth (given normal, non-starving, situations). We’re far safer buying items of simplest categorization. Complexity comes with additional expectations and in many cases confuses how we interact and understand the objects in our world.

 

Consumptive Challenges

June 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Work a shift anywhere outside a home office and one’s biology will certainly grow assertive. Stomach pangs and scratches of a dry throat prove increasingly annoying as the shift progress. To snack or not to snack? What to eat as those small reminders of life start to peck away at our attention?

A quick tour of one’s grocery store reveals a vast variety of options. Fresh food? Maybe, but will it spoil? How much time do we have to prepare our food? It’s silly to squander our sixty minute lunch break with forty-five minutes of prep?  interesting assumption many workers automatically establish is the presence of a microwave. Propped atop a counter, this box of radioactive power simplifies the work place meal question.

Given the microwave the frozen entree becomes king and daily ration for most. Tear away the

cover, punch in the time and watch lunch spin its way to completion. They aren’t perfect but they’re cheap and easy- the two most important factors in work place feeding and reason why so many choose frozen when planning out their meal. But are these items the only option? What does
Display a choice away from the frozen entree and reveal a preference of something other. Is it a diet? A sense of more exquisite taste? As with all decisions to break away from popular behavior, a decision to be different leads to assumption. one venture in selecting a non-frozen entree for work place food? Preparing one’s food at work becomes dramatic on multiple scales: assert yourself by not microwaving a frozen box and become an exception.

 

The meal is the most intimate moment of the work place. Selecting, preparing and enjoying food create moments of dramatic personal display. We reveal much in eating and given the controlled environment of the work place, our behaviors during lunch hour become revelations. We may hide our true selves, play it safe all day or even act as completely different people at work. No matter how hard we try all is naught when we eat: at lunch we reveal just who we are.

Maybe this is why frozen entrees are so popular with workers? Beyond ease and variety, these tiny frozen boxes deny glimpses into who we really are. Protect your real preference and stay safe. Stay hidden with your frozen lunch and fight back biology. Wait safely for home when the true self can exist and, placing fork to mouth, safe revelry can occur and the true self comes alive with each and every bite.

preparation must be minimal- speed of creation is critical when a food item’s time of consumption is limited to a “lunch hour”. Out of these limitations the frozen entree is the ideal candidate for workplace meal: rapid preparation and flavor variety work to establish these tiny boxes as logical selections for workers.

The microwave seems to exist as an assumed component of fast-created food. ie the varied cadre of frozen entrees available on freezer shelves. Herein we find the ideal solution to work place hunger.

Muncher’s Paradox: The Dieter’s Dilemma

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Weight loss presents a fascinating paradox: overcome obsessive intake via greater focus on the hazard. One only loses weight by being more mindful of the hazard causing the problem. All changes to behavior are difficult, habitual activities are rituals to comfort and peace. The more we enjoy something the more we indulge in it. Its very simple: things that give us pleasure become components of our existence and, via this relationship, closely linked to how we identify ourselves. What begins as quick relief, the dish of ice cream, the hot bowl of soup, becomes an essential device to daily life.

Whereas behaviors like smoking and gambling can be avoided or replaced by other activities, dieting demands deeper obsession with the habit.

Imagine the perils if this requirement existed for drug addiction: focus more thinking on drugs or make them an even greater source of obsession in your day. The repercussions could only be disastrous. Dieting presents a unique moment of behavior wherein the individual dieting must invest greater focus on the item he or she needs to avoid. It seems backwards that in trying to lose weight we must make it a greater part of our thinking. One loses weight not simply by avoiding its presence in our existence. Instead, due to its requirement in our life and constant presence in our day, we must pay more attention to the foods we eat. Is this inability to simply “look away” as one can do with other undesirable habits the reason why dieting so often fails?

 

 

 

Off Into The Crawl Space

January 11, 2011 2 comments

Many human beings hide inside an interest as a means for comfort and security. For some this protection comes in the form of media, perhaps a favorite television show with a cast of characters that seem almost real and who provide a personal connection. For others the work of a musical artist provides insight into personal feelings. Somewhere in the collected body of work a band provides the food for personal consideration and creates a foundation for personal revelation. Art’s enduring power and importance stems largely from its ability to assist us in understanding who we are. Our favorite works of art are much more than aesthetically pleasing creations, they are devices to revelation, gateways into the depths of our soul that we both hide from the rest of the world and enter into only with the assistance of these creative works.

For others pleasure and security comes in the form of food. The possession of a moment wherein one’s favorite food is paused for consumption is as nearly divine as any earthly experience. Eating is the ultimate act of intimacy: a moment of complete control where a human being nourishes and gratifies itself. We have endless choices of food but possess a minute list of favorite foods that we personally define as special and sources of higher levels of gratification.

At the core of these provisions is a collection of positive emotions. We tend to cluster multiple positive experiences into these events in order to heighten the experience. In a way, we maximize pleasure by sweetening the experience in as many ways as possible: reading in a favorite chair on an afternoon of complete silence, dedicate an afternoon to pursue the perfect preparation of gourmet delicacies. Life, it seems, is a maze of personal applications, it provides us little in the form of pleasure; instead relying on the individual to know and create the moments that provide happiness. In short, its only us that can make us happy and in order to achieve a state of bliss we need to work for it.

We can recognize the signs of mental illness when these pursuits of pleasure either extend too often, too long or never end. Note the delusion of the Tucson shooter whose obsession with conspiracy theories and his victim are seen by many as major signs of mental illness. At some point an interest began to deepen and obsession took hold. Our pursuit of that which pleases us is a normal human process but when the human mind is out of balance these pursuits become distorted. The ailing human mind struggles to return from these ventures into happiness or, in the most tragic cases, becomes lost inside the zone of pleasure and becomes ensnared inside the moment forever.

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